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I am far from being the only victim of this arrogant and incompetent  judge – who was publicly admonished by the California Commission on Judicial Performance in 2004.

If the Judicial Council kept a list of “vexatious judges” (as they do of so-called “vexatious litigants”) Judge Robert M. Letteau would be at the top.    

When a pro se litigant loses 5 cases (in a 7 year period) – this is considered “vexatious” under Cal.Civ.Proc.Code Sec. 391 et seq.

But what about a judge who is reversed on appeal this many times (apart from the matters for which he was publicly admonished)?  Isn’t deciding a case wrongly far more serious than losing a case as a litigant (especially as a pro se litigant who is, in fact, expected to lose due to the arcane technicalities of our adversary litigation system)?

By this standard Judge Letteau is certainly a “vexatious judge”.

Within just a 26 month period from December 2001 to Feb 2004 Judge Letteau was reversed on appeal in no less than 10 cases.

These are the cases:

[U] Labow v. Hankin, No. B149324 (Cal.App. Dist.2 12/27/2001)

[U] Condon v. Law Offices of Steven L. Mazza, No. B145458 (Cal.App. Dist.2 11/27/2002)

[U] Kraft v. Lively, No. B147633 (Cal.App. Dist.2 10/07/2002)

[U] Temkin v. Kaplan, No. B144900 (Cal.App. Dist.2 02/05/2002)

[U] Lia v. Domaine Mumm, Inc., No. B157434 (Cal.App. Dist.2 06/02/2003)

[U] Slotkin v. Rosoff, No. B155833 (Cal.App. Dist.2 01/21/2003)

[U] McCullough v. Seiger, No. B156059 (Cal.App. Dist.2 08/21/2003) – in part

[U] Mendoza v. Miller, No. B159700 (Cal.App. Dist.2 09/24/2003) – in part

In re Conservatorship of the Person and Estate of Kerr, No. B154713 (Cal.App. Dist.2 07/31/2003)

Avner v. Lai, No. B154230 (Cal.App. Dist.2 02/04/2004)

          This is not to mention the cases prior to 2001 where he was reversed on appeal.

For example, the following (to mention a few):

Gonzales v. Southern California Edison Company, 77 Cal.App.4th 485, 91 Cal.Rptr.2d 530 (Cal.App.Dist.2 12/09/1999)

Suman v. BMW of North America, Inc., 23 Cal.App.4th 1, 28 Cal.Rptr.2d 133 (Cal.App. Dist.2 03/08/1994)

Foxgate Homeowners’ Association, Inc. v. Bramalea California, Inc., 78 Cal.App.4th 653, 92 Cal.Rptr.2d 916 (Cal.App. Dist.2 02/25/2000)

Some comments about Letteau from appellate opinions:

[U] Marik v. Keele, No. B216304 (Cal.App. Dist.2 11/23/2010):

The essential issue presented is the failure of the arbitrator, retired Judge Robert M. Letteau, to disclose to the parties at the time of his nomination that he had been publicly admonished by the Commission on Judicial Performance (Commission) for “a troubling pattern of repeated violation of ethical duties that are fundamental to the fairness, and the perceived fairness, of the judicial process.” The Commission determined “the existence of a pervasive pattern of bias, prejudgment, ex parte communication, and abuse of judicial authority toward parties and attorneys warrants a public admonishment.”.

On May 20, 2004, in a decision and order imposing public admonishment, the Commission found that “Judge Letteau engaged in misconduct while presiding over two matters between 1998 and 2000: an attorney’s motion for fees in the Conservatorship of Feist, and the court trial in Condon v. Mazza…. [¶] The commission further found that Judge Letteau’s misconduct in the Feist and Condon v. Mazza matters was similar to conduct between 1996 and 2001 in three other matters for which the judge was privately admonished in 2002.   Accordingly, the commission concluded that Judge Letteau’s misconduct warrants this notice of intended public admonishment.” (emphasis added).

[U] Victor Ceporius et al v. Guy Maturo et al, No. B228418 (Cal.App. Dist.2 01/30/2012)

In connection with his retention as a referee pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 638, Judge Letteau made several disclosures. However, he did not disclose that he had been publicly admonished by the Commission on Judicial Performance (Commission). In a May 20, 2004 decision and order imposing public admonishment, the Commission found that “Judge Letteau engaged in misconduct while presiding over two matters between 1998 and 2000: an attorney’s motion for fees in the Conservatorship of Feist, and the court trial in Condon v. Mazza. . . . [¶] The commission further found that Judge Letteau’s misconduct in the Feist and Condon v. Mazza matters was similar to conduct between 1996 and 2001 in three other matters for which the judge was privately admonished in 2002.” Among other misconduct, Judge Letteau was found to have engaged in “bias and embroilment” in the Conservatorship of Feist matter, and improper “prejudgment and advocacy” in the Condon v. Mazza matter. He was admonished for “a troubling pattern of repeated violation of ethical duties that are fundamental to the fairness, and the perceived fairness, of the judicial process.” The Commission determined “the existence of a pervasive pattern of bias, prejudgment, ex parte communication, and abuse of judicial authority toward parties and attorneys warrants a public admonishment.” (emphasis added).

See also the following web site:    Access of the Elderly to Justice which cites the unpublished case Conservatorship of Feist (2001):  

“Second District Court of Appeal’s decision: Conservatorship of Feist, reversing Judge Robert M. Letteau’s award of fees to Hankin. The Second District found that Judge Letteau’s decision was the product of a “palpable animosity,” because Judge Letteau took offense at Hankin’s contention that the court was not serving less-than-affluent victims of elder abuse. The Second District characterized Hankin’s contention as an “outspoken” and “immoderate” “commentary” on probate court practices. Hankin contended that probate court practices deprive elder abuse victims (who are not affluent) of the protection the courts should provide (to them) from elder abuse.

The Second District determined that, in a “clear” and “patent” “abuse of discretion”: (1) Letteau cut Hankin’s fees (to 1/4 of Hankin’s fee request) to punish Hankin for making that contention, and (2) Hankin under-billed the Fiest Conservatorship (by charging for only 11 out of 21 hearings). But the Court of Appeal inexplicably refused to publish the decision, effectively sweeping the Judge Letteau’s punitive abuse of power under the rug. Query: Why did the Second District decline to publish this decision? “

The estate-fleecing team of Letteau and his buddy Judge Ross was the subject of articles in Metropolitan News, Oct. 27, and Oct. 29, 1997.

Letteau’s 2004 public admonishment by the California Commission on Judicial Performance is discussed in a May 21, 2004 Metropolitan News article.

Being unfair, biased, pre-judging cases and abusing judicial authority is one thing, but the following two articles tend to show that Letteau was outright corrupt by putting his law office buddies into profit-making positions in the estates he was dealing with.

Letteau was the subject of two articles in the New Times Los Angeles newspaper.

May 14, 1998 “Shredded Fred” by Jill Stewart, describes how this “small-time judge” appoints his friends and business associates to run the $200 million dollar estate of art collecter Fred Weisman.  

And see the Feb. 4, 1999, follow up article by Jill Stewart, “Spinning in his grave”.

In my case from the opening moments of the hearing – it was clear that Judge Letteau had pre-judged the matter.

Immediately after appearances were given Judge Letteau stated the following:

“THE COURT: Now, I don’t even know where to begin, [ . . . ]. There’s so many strange things that you filed —

. . ..

THE COURT: . . . It really seems to be consistent with past problems that you’ve experienced with the court system.”

The issue of whether I had indeed, had “past problems with the court system” was a major determinative issue to be decided at the hearing. However, Judge Letteau had obviously prejudged this issue.   

Where a judge announces prejudgment of issues before him, he demonstrates bias to the requisite degree of probability as to require disqualification under CAL.CIV.PROC.CODE  Sec.170.6. Pacific & Southwest Annual Conference of United Methodist Church v. Superior Court. San Diego County (1978) 82 Cal.App.3d 72.    

Prejudging of the case can be the basis of a reversal. A judge should not judge the issues before all the evidence is presented.    Webber v. Webber (1948) 33 Cal.2d 153,158; Pratt v. Pratt (1903) 141 Cal. 247,251.  

Due process requires that the tribunal be a fair and impartial one. Federal Constr. Co. v. Curd (1918) 179 Cal. 489.  A judge should have an open and unprejudiced mind throughout the trial. Gay v. Torrance (1904) 145 Cal. 144.

In addition, Judge Letteau’s contempt for the law was evident.  The court refused to follow the hearing procedure prescribed by CAL.CIV.PROC.CODE  Sec. 391.2 at my hearing. I  specifically requested that the hearing be conducted in accordance with statute and that I be permitted examination of witnesses:  

I stated:

“. . .: Your Honor, this proceeding is not being held in accordance with the statute. There’s supposed to be witnesses. I’m supposed to be able to examine the witnesses and Mr. Gifford an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses. I would like to speak as a witness instead of just —

THE COURT: I’m sorry that we’re having to do this in the manner that I think is appropriate . . . “.

I complained later in the hearing that “this is supposed to be a hearing as — as a real hearing”  and that “I have not been able to speak as a witness and to present evidence surrounding these cases.”.

The conduct of the court deprived me of my due process rights.  Due process is absent if a party is deprived of his property without evidence having been offered against him in accordance with established rules.  Collins v. Superior Court (2nd Dist.1957) 150 Cal.App.2d 354,363.  

The right to confront and cross-examine witnesses is a fundamental aspect of procedural due process. Wolff v. McDonnell (1974) 418 U.S. 539.

In addition, at my hearing Judge Letteau did not say one word, expressed or implied, which would tend to show that he considered the issue of whether there is reasonable probability that I would prevail in my petition for division of trust (one of the two issues prerequisite to requiring a security).

Judge Letteau stated specifically that only one of the two findings — the “vexatious litigant” finding — was the basis for his order:

“THE COURT: Only if this court determines that you’re not a vexatious litigant, can we then proceed to trial on this matter. . . .” .

In my case, the failure of the probate court to consider this issue is reversible error. Muller,supra at p.465, ordered reversal based on this ground..

 


Moreover, the court’s file for this case was lost prior to the hearing. It cannot be inferred that Judge Letteau formed such an opinion from papers on file.  And, even if he had formed an opinion from the papers alone, that would be insufficient. Complaint and affidavit are not sufficient evidence in this regard. Muller,supra at p.464.

 


And there’s still more.  At my hearing, the demeanor of the judge — and the atmosphere of the courtroom — throughout the proceedings, was one of hostility to and bias against me.  Trial was conducted in an inquisitorial mode — the judge dominating and controlling the proceedings, and not letting me speak to the issues.   

 


Judge Letteau acted more zealously as an advocate for City National Bank (the trustee of the trust I had filed my petition for division of)  then did City National’s own attorneys.  For example, by granting security to City National, although City National never even requested security, and by setting “on its own initiative” a Sec. 128.5 hearing – which made a gift to the bank of some $40,000 (out of my trust income over many years).

However, it is inherently unfair for the judge to be an adversary and it denies me due process.  ” … judges must recognize the gross unfairness of becoming a combatant with a party …. The disparity in power between a judge and a litigant requires that a judge treat a litigant with courtesy, patience and understanding.” (SHAMAN, Judicial Conduct and Ethics (1990), p.32, citing In re Eastmore (Fla.1987) 504 So.2d 756,758).

At my hearing two sheriff’s deputies postured intimidatingly during the hearing.  Also at that hearing, Judge Letteau expressed disbelief of my statements.  Furthermore, Judge Letteau ambushed me in regard to the Sec. 391(b) (3) issue. Towards the end of the hearing — after discussing the issues under Sec. 391(b) (1) — the court asked Mr. Gifford, counsel for City National if there were “anything else that you’d like to finally add”.  Mr.Gifford stated, “Well, there is one more thing”, and began discussing the issue of Sec. 391(b) (3) — to which the court stated: “And that would certainly bear upon the court’s determination …. ” .

Although I had shown that I had not lost 5 cases in the previous 7 years, Judge Letteau picked up on the motion I made:  PETITIONER’S IN LIMINE MOTION FOR AN ORDER SETTING MODE OF TRIAL TO BE INQUISITORIAL RATHER THAN ADVERSARIAL, which he called “bizarre” and considered to be frivolous enough to  justify the “vexatious” label.  

It’s bad enough to be robbed by the court – but money comes and goes.  

What continues to rankle is to be stigmatized as “vexatious” when I was, in fact,  the victim of this treacherous bank’s tactics.  Punishing the victim is the epitome of injustice.

My motion was a response to the situation of trust money being spent on trust attorneys to litigate against my petition which was for the benefit of all the trust beneficiaries.   I was invited by City National to file my probate court petition for  division of trust.  And I was told by City National that there would be no opposition to it.  I discussed division of trust with City National, emphasizing that: ” … this should be done as amicably as possible, and with the least expense for all concerned.”.   William Schacht, City National’s trust officer wrote to all the beneficiaries about my interest in dividing the trust, stating the following:  “. . . perhaps among yourselves an agreement might be struck that would be acceptable to all. I am willing to serve as an intermediary for communication purposes, … “.  C. Scott Boone, Senior Vice President of City National wrote to me inviting me to file my petition for division of trust.  Copies of these letters from the trust’s files are on record with the courts.

However, after I filed the petition, City National hired one of the most expensive law firms in Los Angeles (Riordan & Mcki to oppose the petition – raking up large legal fees against the trust (fees which came, in part, out of my trust income).  

That’s when I filed my “inquisitorial” motion – for everyone to save money (the opposite of harassment). Little did I realize that the purpose of the probate court is to enrich the “old boys club” of lawyers and judges who prey off the estates before them.  No wonder Letteau considered my motion for saving money to be bizarre!

Then, immediately after the hearing, Letteau immediately sent his minute order to the Judicial Council for me to be blacklisted under Sec. 391.7.  As a result, my attempts to appeal the wrongful order were ambushed.

I attempted to address the issues but I was repeatedly cut off by Judge Letteau and was not permitted to speak to the issues until after the court had rendered its decision.  When I finally got a word in, I stated, “Am I allowed to speak? You’ve raised new issues” and “Well, wait. I haven’t had an opportunity to  address the issue of the frivolous motions — so called frivolous motions”.   Judge Letteau then stated incorrectly, “I really think you’ve  had that opportunity both in written and verbal form”.   However, the record shows that I had no meaningful opportunity to address the issues under Sec. 391(b)(3).

At the hearing, Judge Letteau indicated that he was not making allowance for my pro se status –  that he holds a layman pro se litigant to the same standard as an attorney.  However, that is not correct.  

Filings of a layman pro se litigant are held to a less strict standard than the standard applied to filings drafted by lawyers. See Akao v. Shimada (9th Cir 1987) 832 F.2d 119.  “Only a skilled lawyer is likely to file motions wholly free of procedural defects, … ” (Payne v. Superior Court (1976)  17 Cal.3d 908,926,n.9).   The layman pro se litigant is not expected to have “skill in the science of law”.  “Even the intelligent and educated layman has small and sometimes no skill in the science of law.” (Gideon v. Wainwright (1962) 372 U.S. 335,345).  

Robert M. Letteau (Los Angeles County Probate Court)

“Take all the robes of all the good judges that have ever lived on the face of the earth, and they would not be large enough to cover the iniquity of one corrupt judge.” (Henry Ward Beecher)